Whether you're watching a bunch of environmentally conscious shows during NBC's "Green Week" or taking in cautionary tales like The Day After Tomorrow, it's obvious Hollywood cares about our fragile environment.
Or at least they want us to think they do. When it comes time to getting just the right shot, wiping out a big hunk of ecosystem is considered a small price to pay. For instance ...
#5. Apocalypse Now Nuked Acres of Forest
As ridiculous film shoots go, few can top Apocalypse Now. There was the mental breakdown and near death of Martin Sheen, the troubles filming in an actual war zone and a typhoon that destroyed an entire set.
"CUT! Hey, stop bleeding, asshole. We still have two more takes."
But then there's the most iconic shot in a film full of iconic shots, the opening scene of the palm trees burning under a storm of napalm as Jim Morrison wails over the top about Oedipus and the transient nature of existence. Most people are probably too distracted by one of the finest opening shots in film to actually contemplate how it was achieved.
After all, it's an impressive special effect for 1979. How did they go about making it look like a huge section of forest had been burned to the ground?
Surprise! They did it by actually burning a huge section of forest to the ground.
That's pretty much it. Around 1,200 gallons of gasoline were poured over the splendid palm trees and then set alight. Tires were also burned to generate more smoke for the shot, while canisters were dropped onto the area to look like falling napalm. Acres of the forest were destroyed in a matter of seconds. Fitting, for a shot that was supposed to visually demonstrate the mindless, indiscriminate destruction of war.
"Now we'll highlight the tragic reality of unwanted puppies by throwing this sack in the river."
The sequence was shot in the Philippines, and it was fortunate for the production that all those pesky tree-huggers were an ocean away -- or as Francis Ford Coppola put it, "They'd never let you [do it] in the U.S., the environmentalists would kill you."
Then again, this was the 1970s. Hollywood learned its lesson in the decades since, right? Well ...
#4. Leo DiCaprio's The Beach Destroyed a Paradise
You're nobody in the entertainment industry if you haven't attended at least one fundraiser for the environment, or at least made a movie about it. Likewise, the studios themselves know they have to stay on the cutting edge of the cause. Universal Studios has added solar-powered carts for employees on the lot. Warner Bros. has a sustainability page of their website that explores "waste reduction" and "green building" ideas for filming. So it's clear the industry sees itself as something of a leader when it comes to teaching the world to give Mother Nature a hug, and possibly a sensual massage, depending on the type of movie they're making at the time.
"Fronds with Benefits? No, that probably sucks."
So, when the creators of the 2000 film The Beach came to shoot on the idyllic location of Maya Beach in the Phi Phi Islands off Thailand, they knew their responsibilities were not only to make a great film but to also take excellent care of the local ecosystem ... two tasks at which they failed miserably. In a fitting twist, the message of The Beach is ostensibly that trying to preserve an untouched paradise is futile. A message they wholeheartedly endorsed by laying waste to one of the most pristine islands in all of the South Pacific.
The island was initially chosen by location scouts for Fox Studios not because of its astounding natural beauty, but because of its potential for a landscaping rethink.
"What this virgin paradise really needs is some Hollywood razzle-dazzle."
The script called for a clearing on the beach large enough to play football, so they bulldozed a whole heap of the native trees and vegetation. Now it's possible they didn't know that actual ecosystems don't function the same way as film sets; you can't just tear down a whole section and not expect some horrific recourse by Mother Nature, but more on that in a second. They also planted a hundred non-native palm trees just to get the right look, essentially introducing an exotic species to the island that could threaten to take over and effectively change the habitat forever.
"That bulldozer really complements all the dead monkeys."
While the whole thing was an eyesore for anyone who wasn't looking at it through the camera lens, the real damage didn't come until the filmmakers left the island. The usual seasonal storms hit the beach, but this time the sand dunes didn't have the protection of their natural vegetation. They collapsed immediately and washed out to sea, damaging the fragile coral reef on their way out.
Environmentalists were outraged and accused the filmmakers of bribing the Thai government to get around pesky legal issues; for instance, the National Park Act, which was specifically designed to prevent this exact sort of thing. The ugly back story is that Fox donated the equivalent of $100,000 to the Royal Forestry Development in Thailand; the normal fee for filming on the island is less than one percent of that. Magically, they were allowed the freedom to remodel the island as much as they pleased after the money changed hands.
And then tourists swamped the island, which isn't bad for a book that rails against that kind of thing.
Environmentalists were understandably furious. They sought legal action against Fox Studios, its local coordinator Santa International and Thai government officials. Seven years later, the court penalized the film company for unnecessary ecological destruction and ordered them to repair all environmental damage to Maya Beach, which is a nice sentiment until you consider that that's not just planting a couple trees. They're expected to rebuild the marine life population they wiped out, and these are people who couldn't tell the difference between types of palm trees.
#3. A Jacques Cousteau Documentary on Sea Life Blows the Shit Out of It
Ecologist, explorer, author and fish whisperer Jacques Cousteau was famous for his environmental work and for giving everyone in the world their first intimate view of ocean life through his countless documentaries. In fact, his documentary The Silent World was the first to ever win the Palme d'Or Award at Cannes in 1956 and also picked up an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
And the Craziest Smile Award.
It inspired a generation of marine biologists by offering a glimpse into the world of swimming with sea turtles, exploring coral-covered shipwrecks and blowing up hundreds of fish with dynamite.
During the film, Cousteau decides to do a complete census of the local marine life in a coral reef, which is exactly the sort of educational study we'd expect from our genial explorer. What we don't expect is for him to do it by killing everything in sight with explosives.
As far as we understand it, a census is used to determine exactly what's living in a particular area, so killing it all sort of negates the practice. But we also don't have fancy titles like "oceanographic technicians," so maybe we're off base.
"Science has a price. And that price is all the fish."
And it's not like The Silent World smooths over the killing -- during the census scene, we hang on the image of a puffer fish slowly exhaling buckets of water and dying on top of a pile of corpses.
In another scene of unprovoked ocean mutilation, we see a sperm whale that has been inadvertently hurt by the film crew's boat. The animal, now seriously injured, is mercifully put out of its misery by the crew. A group of sharks are then attracted to the dead mammal and begin to feast on its remains. Such is the circle of life, except the members of Cousteau's team decide to attack the sharks with axes, tuna hooks and crowbars, killing every last one of them for no good reason at all.
"It's a newly discovered species, so we don't know if that panicked wheezing is normal or not."
Cousteau later realized the error of his ways and became much more environmentally friendly -- he won the UN's International Environmental Prize in 1977 -- leaving his fish-exploding past behind.